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Using the STAR Method in MBA Interviews and Essays

Updated: Feb 1

What is the STAR method?

The technique popularly known as “STAR”, is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action and Result. It’s a framework you can use to structure your answers in an MBA interview and essays. It helps you keep your answer simple, clear and well structured so you don’t miss any critical details. It will focus your answer on the actions you took and the results you achieved. It stops you from giving a waffly and unstructured answer to a potentially tricky question.

At Sam Weeks Consulting, we have adapted STAR to SCAR, replacing “Task” with “Challenge”, which we feel is more interesting and broader. For example, a challenge can include interpersonal conflict between two people, which often makes for impactful stories. Anyway, STAR and SCAR are very similar.

How do you use the STAR Method?

Situation: Start by describing what happened in a particular situation, including any relevant points that you’ll refer to later. Skip unnecessary details that might distract the reader.

Task: Next, discuss the task you had to deliver, the goal you were working towards, or the challenge you had to overcome. This task should be aligned with the question you’re asked. For example, if you’re asked “How do you manage stress?”, the task would be prioritization for multiple deadlines or multitasking.

Action: Then, describe the steps you took to address the situation. This is your chance to demonstrate your character traits, the skills you applied, and your attitude to a particular type of problem.

Result: Now, describe the outcome you achieved. You should quantify or qualify the results, so it’s clear how you turned the situation around. Don’t feel shy about taking credit for the hard work you put in!

STAR Method for MBA Essay Writing

Not every MBA essay requires you to use STAR, but for certain types of essay questions it’s a perfect framework. These are some actual MBA application questions that you could use the STAR framework for:

Cambridge Essay 2

Describe a difficult decision that you had to make. What did you learn from this and how have you changed as a result? (up to 200 words)

Cambridge Essay 3

Describe a time where you worked with a team on a project. What did you learn from the experience and how might you approach it differently today? (up to 200 words)

Darden Short Answer 2: Inclusive Environment

Please describe a tangible example that illuminates your experience promoting an inclusive environment and what you would bring to creating an inclusive global community at Darden. (300 words)

Tuck MBA Essay 3

Tuck students are encouraging, collaborative and empathetic, even when it is not convenient or easy. Describe a meaningful experience in which you exemplified one or more of these attributes. (300 words)

Kellogg MBA Essay 1

Kellogg’s purpose is to educate, equip & inspire brave leaders who create lasting value. Provide a recent example where you have demonstrated leadership and created value. What challenges did you face, and what did you learn? (450 words)

Example of STAR Method for an MBA Essay

Wondering how to write a STAR answer? Here’s an example of a STAR essay used by a former SWC client for his MBA applications, which got him admitted to a T-15 MBA program in the United States with scholarships. (We anonymised the details for privacy!).

Situation: Last year, I tried to convince my team at EY to adopt a new work process to improve collaboration between product managers, analysts and testers to deliver better products. Task: The product managers resisted. I was changing the routines they had used for 15 years. I knew that to implement this change, I needed to make them feel comfortable and earn their trust. Action: I admitted that the change would be time-consuming at the start, but eventually our meetings would be shorter. I promised we’d revert if it didn’t work and built trust in the team by being transparent at each step of the new process. Result: Our average product development time fell by 30% and the project managers agreed to continue to use the concept.

This was my first experience of organization restructuring and process improvement, and my favorite part of my role at EY. It taught me that implementing change in the workplace was only possible through healthy communication and transparent leadership.

STAR Method for Interviews

In an MBA interview, the STAR method is especially useful for behavioral interview questions. These are questions which focus on a “typical” workplace situation usually based around leadership, teamwork and team-building, collaboration, communication, flexibility and adaptability, responsibility and accountability, crisis management, diversity, time management, determination, and values.

These questions usually have a classic opener, such as:

  • “Tell me about a time when…”

  • “Have you ever…”

  • “Describe a time when you…”

  • “Give me an example of…”

As humans, we have evolved to communicate using stories, so dig into your bank of professional and personal stories to find a situation that matches the question. Use STAR to structure your response, so your answer is easy for the listener to follow and your narrative is tight. Your role in the story must be clear and quantified, which the STAR method encourages.

What are the 10 STAR interview questions?

Here’s a list of ten of the most commonly asked STAR interview questions to help you form your responses. For more guidance to ace your interview, check out our blog on Behavioral interview questions where we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of 30 STAR interview questions that we use with our clients in their mock interviews.

  1. Have you ever handled a difficult situation with a senior or someone in the leadership? How did you tackle that situation?

  2. Tell us about a time when you successfully achieved your targets and how?

  3. Tell us about a time when you failed to meet your targets. How did you handle this situation?

  4. Tell us about a time when you made an unpopular choice. How did you implement the decision?

  5. What is your risk tolerance? Did you ever make a risky decision? Why? How did you handle it?

  6. Have you ever postponed a decision? Why?

  7. Have you ever delivered something under tight deadlines? How do you manage stress?

  8. Have you ever convinced a team to work on an assignment they weren’t enthusiastic about? How did you convince them?

  9. Tell us about a time when you felt your boss made a poor call. Then, please explain how you would have done it differently.

  10. Have you ever been in a situation where you were underworked?

Want to learn how to use the STAR method ahead of your interviews? Book a free chat with us now.

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Hi, I'm Sam.  I'm the founder of Sam Weeks Consulting. Our clients get admitted to top MBA and EMBA programs.

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